02 September 2021

“It’s time for every UK household to declare a climate emergency. In the UK nearly 20% of all carbon equivalent emissions are a result of energy used in our homes. In fact, homes make up one of the largest single sources of carbon emissions in the country. We will not meet our targets without near complete decarbonisation of the housing stock. A recent report by the IPCC demonstrates the immensity of the challenges we face unless we take urgent action together.

Many households want to make retrofit improvements to their homes, but they lack support or don’t know where to start. These are the problems we want to solve. With the UK hosting COP26 this November, it’s time for every household to send a clear message. Declaring a climate emergency via this platform allows us to use our collective voice to send a strong message to the government, whilst providing resources to help us learn together.”

Join us and the network of households across the country to make a commitment to positive action. To find out more and to sign up, go to: www.householdsdeclare.org

26 August 2021

New project alert! We’re excited to start another retrofit project in collaboration with Cosy Homes Oxfordshire. It’s another Victorian terrace in a conservation area, this time in Jericho, Oxford. To preserve its lovely brick walls, we’ll be insulating internally with wood fibre for its vapour permeability and low embodied energy. The ancient boiler is at the end of its life, so will be replaced with an ASHP. Solar PV will provide a top up to heating and hot water, as well as electricity.

The client wanted to bring an architect on board to help with re-planning the house. The kitchen is sited in the basement, which gives it limited access to daylight. We will re-plan the kitchen and turn a window into a set of French doors. This will introduce an abundance of natural light, opening it up to the lovely courtyard garden. On upper floors, flat ceilings will be made vaulted and rooflights installed, again to introduce natural light into a dark bathroom and stairway.

Talk to us if you’re thinking about a low energy retrofit alongside more substantial alterations to your home. Get in touch with Cosy Homes Oxfordshire to register for a ‘Whole House Plan’.

19 August 2021

Code red for humanity! The recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report sends a dire warning about the irreversible damage to our climate and environment. Global warming of 1.5 and 2 degrees will be exceeded this century if we don’t reduce emissions. We all have a responsibility to do something about it. Collectively, and in the run up to COP26, we need to make enough noise that our leaders and policymakers will take notice and take action. So, what can we do?

1. Back the Climate and Ecological Emergency (CEE) Bill as an individual and / or organisation.

2. Sign up to Households Declare to demand that the UK government establishes a national retrofit strategy.

3. Join the Climate Protest Day on Monday 23rd August to support this call to action.

We have done / will be doing all three and would encourage you to do the same. Let’s support these important campaigns together to push for the systemic change needed for our survival.

22 July 2021

Progress on one of our low energy retrofit projects in Oxford is coming along nicely! A number of factors meant that we specified internal wall insulation (IWI), in this case a wood fibre board, which has the rigidity to stay upright against the walls. Not only does wood fibre have a low embodied energy, it is vapour permeable, which is important for reducing the risk of condensation in solid brick walls. A lime-based parge coat seals and evens up the wobbly brickwork behind the boards.

As architects, we spend a lot of time on the computer / drawing board, so it’s particularly important for us to see the construction of our projects on site, and to get feedback from those building it. The use of lime-based products on these buildings is important, again, for vapour permeability. However, this does result in much longer drying times compared to cement-based alternatives. This needs to be factored in early on, as it will have an effect on a project’s programme.

We’re taking a bit of a summer break from our journal, so there’ll be no posts for the next few weeks. We’re still here though, so do get in touch to discuss your low impact architectural project.

15 July 2021

Happy birthday Sow Space! It’s been two years since we officially launched our architects’ practice and we’re still going strong. Despite having now operated for longer within the pandemic than outside of it, we’re super proud of our many achievements. In the last year, Mina has taken on her role as Senior Lecturer at Oxford Brookes, improving our links to academia and research. Paola has joined us to strengthen our offering in ultra-low energy and regenerative design.

We’ve also started a record number of new projects, some of which have now been completed, so we look forward to getting those photographed and added to the website soon. More importantly, the types of enquiries and projects we’ve taken on closer reflect the ethos of our practice. This means that we’re building a reputation for being experts in sustainable and ecological buildings, with a particular specialisation in low energy retrofit. People are beginning to take notice!

A big thank you to all those who’ve supported and followed us. We’re confident that we can keep growing and continue doing what we love. Lots more exciting news to follow…

08 July 2021

Broad Meadow is open! A part of Broad Street, Oxford city centre, has been transformed into a new outdoor space with wildflower meadows and lawns. It provides a much-needed oasis in what’s normally a car-dominated street. It offers a connection to nature and a boost in biodiversity – something the public realm of the city centre lacks. You can tell how much it’s valued by the number of people using it, even on a grey day. Well done to all those that made this happen.

Our team’s passion and research is about integrating nature within the built environment. Connecting people to the natural world improves their health and well-being, and raises their awareness of the importance of ecological systems. Broad Meadow is a temporary intervention, running until the end of September. Its benefits will be lost when it disappears, which will be a real shame. We’d love for it to be made permanent and to extend the full length of Broad Street.

A consultation is now open to get the views of the public, which you can find here. Talk to us if you’d like to work with architects that value nature and consider ecological impact in design.

01 July 2021

How about this grass paver system as an alternative surface to tarmac? We may need access for our vehicles to our houses, especially as home car charging becomes more common, yet vast areas of our residential grass verges are being replaced with tarmac driveways. “No mow May” really highlighted the value of our planted verges as they sprung to life with tall grass and wild flowers. We installed this system on one of our projects and there are many benefits to specifying it.

Our verges are often lined with mature trees. Unlike tarmac, the grass pavers allow for a shallow dig, which avoids disturbing established tree roots. The permeable nature of the system absorbs and slows down surface rainwater run-off during heavy downpours. Its softness helps reduce the urban heat island effect and promotes biodiversity with all sorts of things growing in this one. Visually it blends in with grass verges to the side and is barely visible when viewed from an angle.

Imagine what other surfaces we could green and think of how beautiful our streets would be! Talk to us if you’d like to work with an architect that thinks differently to the ‘business as usual’ approach.

17 June 2021

A new project start! We’ve been appointed to carry out a low energy retrofit on this pre-1900 brick and stone house in West Oxfordshire. We completed an initial appraisal to understand which measures are feasible, the percentage in energy reduction they would result in when compared to existing, estimated capital costs, and payback period. While payback is often the focus of feasibility, it’s the improvement of thermal comfort that wins in this, and many other cases.

Our client reports fridge-like internal temperatures in the depths of winter. To address this, we will look at a balanced approach in retrofit measures. These will include wood fibre IWI, loft insulation, replacement of all windows, and an array of solar PV to the south-facing roof. The existing gas boiler still works and will be retained with a view to replace in future with an ASHP. This is a low-impact strategy in seeing out the useful life of building elements as far as practicable.

When considering low energy retrofit, it’s important to appoint an architect with experience in a variety of building types and retrofit measures. Talk to us about your retrofit project.

10 June 2021

Another planning permission secured! We recently gained consent for our extension and deep retrofit project in East Oxford. This Edwardian terrace has beautifully decorative features in the form of patterned brickwork, stone window surrounds, and intricate roof detailing. To preserve this appearance on the streetscene, we opted to insulate internally to the front. The rear has received modern intervention, so it will be insulated externally, which brings better thermal performance.

Wood fibre insulation and lime plaster will be specified to maintain vapour permeability through the solid walls, and to reduce embodied carbon. The roof will be insulated, while we’ll explore replacing the floor with a new timber raft. An air source heat pump will replace the defective boiler and solar PVs will be mounted to the flat dormer roof and tilted for optimal exposure. Based on our assessment, there is potential for an 80% reduction in carbon emissions in operation.

If you’re considering a low energy retrofit, it’s important to understand the most appropriate measures for your particular building. We can help with this. Talk to us about your retrofit project.

02 June 2021

Zero Carbon Homes in Oxfordshire – let’s make it happen! Following a collection of responses to the Oxfordshire Zero Carbon Homes Initiative (OZCHI) online survey, we are now holding a webinar to focus on overcoming the obstacles and accelerating the adoption of zero carbon homes in Oxfordshire as standard. The principal obstacles that the survey identified included building regulations, the planning system, affordability, and the need for political will to take this forward.

The webinar will cover a number of key topics, including the local and national situation, current practice, the wider sustainability context, as well as analysis of the survey responses. Presentations from local and national experts will provide a broad range of perspectives and will show local examples of zero carbon housing. There will be interactive group discussion sessions, offering all those attending the opportunity to focus and to provide input on how we move forward.

We very much hope you will join us to discuss next steps. You can register for the event here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/zero-carbon-homes-in-oxfordshire-making-it-happen-tickets-153697371977